Monday, April 30, 2007

Crusaders can't count on home semi (
The Crusaders still need a victory against the Chiefs at Jade Stadium on Friday to cement a home semifinal in another tight Super 14 rugby run-in, after Dan Carter missed a last-second consolation kick in Canberra.

Coach Robbie Deans felt the Crusaders had "guaranteed" a play-off place despite the 6-15 defeat to the Brumbies in a tryless match on Saturday.

Seven teams are still in with a mathematical shout at making the top four - but the Crusaders would have to lose by more than 108 points to the Chiefs (a Super rugby record) and the Sharks, Bulls and Blues would all have to grab bonus-point victories for Deans' team to miss the play-offs.

The Crusaders still have 41 points and Deans felt one more would have secured a third successive home semi-final.

Hence the somewhat surreal sight of Carter - nursing a shoulder "stinger" - lining up a long-range penalty attempt on the full-time siren. Carter, stunned in a George Gregan pile-driver tackle, uncharacteristically missed his bonus-point bid.

Captain Richie McCaw agreed that taking shots at goal "when the game is lost" was not "the nicest thing to do".

"But in the context of the competition, sometimes you've got to make calls like that."
With one round to play, the Crusaders (41 points), the Sharks (40), Bulls and Blues (37), Chiefs (36), Brumbies (35) and even the Force (32) have a shot at the top-four.

The Crusaders have not lost in 23 games at their Jade Stadium fortress but Deans and McCaw know their team will have to lift its intensity and accuracy against the Chiefs.
The six-time champions were out-passioned in Canberra by a buoyant Brumbies side which was farewelling three franchise legends. The Crusaders' leaky lineout - a strength for much of the season - conceded seven throws to the Brumbies' leapers and the Australians reigned at ruck-time too.

Asked if the Crusaders - who had been on a six-match winning streak - had lost because they were flat or because the Brumbies were so super-charged, McCaw said: "A bit of both, to be honest."

"Hopefully we've learnt from that - even those of us who've been around a bit longer. It's just a wee reminder of the intensity of the business end of the season and where we've got to get to.
"Perhaps we just weren't quite there - we thought we were, but in hindsight, we weren't."
Deans said all last weekend's games had gone up a notch and the Brumbies-Crusaders clash was of play-off intensity.

"You could see there was a lot more errors forced and that was due to the intensity of the tackle line; essentially, we weren't good enough to get home on the night."

But Deans was already looking forward after the final whistle.
"We've got six days before the Chiefs and they've got a lot to play for," Deans said.
"We've achieved something this weekend - we've got a guaranteed play-off, which is fantastic and when you consider where we started and some of the challenges we had laid on our table (with six All Blacks out for the first half of the season), that's a significant outcome."
Deans said some critics might suggest the Crusaders had qualified off the backs of other teams' work.
"But in reality it's the work we did through Africa and points we were able to get early in the campaign, tipping over the Bulls and so forth."

McCaw was proud that the young Crusaders had set the play-offs platforms while the All Blacks were pursuing their conditioning programme.

"Everyone who's had a crack this year, especially early on, have put their hand up and taken the opportunity.
"It's been tough to get back into it, perhaps a bit tougher than most of us thought.
"A lot of credit has got to go to Robbie how he's handled that, and to have an opportunity to play in the semis is a great thing.".

Meanwhile, Carter is hopeful he will be fit for Friday's clash with the Chiefs.
Carter said he had suffered "a stinger" (a nerve problem) in his left shoulder "just like it was a few weeks ago, but on the other side".
"I'll assess how it is in a couple of days."

Aaron Mauger took a knock above his knee and was still sore yesterday while halfback Kevin Senio hobbled off with a quadriceps strain.

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